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DOE and ORNL link Tennessee students to world of information

Tennessee students can travel the world on their fingertips while never leaving the room with Internet programs funded by the Department of Energy (DOE) and managed by Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL).

Through the Oak Ridge Educational Network (OREN) and the Adventures in Supercomputing (AiS) programs, DOE and ORNL have helped open computer windows in 59 Tennessee schools to a world of learning on the Internet. These programs help students search the world in a few seconds to answer seemingly unsolvable questions, such as tricky calculus problems. From kindergartners to seniors in high school, students can easily discuss politics with students and professionals in other countries, approximate the potential crop growth in Tennessee or pinpoint what year Benjamin Franklin discovered electricity.

In rural settings, students have a hard time getting the type and amount of information that is available on the Internet, said David Staten, who teaches computing and math at Wartburg Central High School, which has about 450 students in grades nine through 12. "Students in rural areas like Wartburg don't have access to extensive research libraries like those at the University of Tennessee where hundreds of resources are kept current. However, with Internet they can now go around the world without leaving the classroom," Staten said.

Since Wartburg Central students have had access to the Internet, their interest in computers has increased and the school's computer class has tripled in size, Staten said. Wartburg Central High School draws students from one of the lowest per capita income areas in Tennessee. The high school was selected to participate in the AiS program and DOE provided computers for the school.

The AiS program is aimed at cultivating the interests of minority, female and economically disadvantaged high school students in mathematics, science and computing. The program simulates scientific experiments, which are safer and less costly than doing experiments in a laboratory. AiS students use high-performance computers, graphic workstations and networks to conduct experiments that can be too complex or dangerous to study in a laboratory. For example, students can easily perform simulated crash tests to understand crash dynamics without the costs of using real cars. Supercomputing can also help predict the spread of fire or the path of a tornado.

Unlike AiS, OREN is a wide area network connecting elementary, middle and senior high schools in Oak Ridge and more than a dozen counties primarily in East and Middle Tennessee to Internet tools that help students understand and explore physics, chemistry, art and many other subjects without having to wait on learning them in high school. OREN provides all Internet services, including global electronic mail, network news services, World Factbook, weather maps and many other resources in science, mathematics, social sciences and humanities.

"The scientific world increasingly relies on Internet computer tools to do research, solve mathematical problems, and simulate and model science experiments," said ORNL Director Dr. Alvin W. Trivelpiece. "By linking schools to the Internet, ORNL can help students get excited learning new ways to analyze scientific data or write computer programs. The Internet will revolutionize the way students work and think by helping them tap into resources from around the world."

Since October 1991, DOE and ORNL have invested $2.6 million in computers, software, training and network costs to provide the AiS and OREN to Tennessee schools programs. Schools in 15 counties and two cities are connected to the Internet through hubs in Memphis, Nashville, Knoxville and Oak Ridge. Participating Tennessee counties are: Anderson, Campbell, Davidson, Gibson, Giles, Grundy, Knox, Lawerence, Madison, Monroe, Morgan, Murfreesboro, Rhea, Roane and Union. Connected cities are Oak Ridge and Memphis. A dial-up modem pool can be provided so that students and teachers with home computers can connect after school hours.

For each AiS school, DOE and ORNL helped provide four Macintosh computers with color monitors and printers, training for teachers at a Summer Institute, experienced consultants to provide support and high-performance computing with a parallel computer on loan from nCUBE Inc. At the two-week Summer Institute, teachers receive hands-on training to guide students in programming solutions to scientific problems. At the end of the session, teachers get software applications and materials to take back to their respective schools.

"Getting Internet to our schools has been one of the most successful outreach programs to come from the Laboratory," said Dr. John Wooten, ORNL's program administrator for Educational Technology. "It is a crucial step in integrating and moving technology forward into the classroom."

OREN furnishes dial-up connections to at least 1,200 Tennessee users. Through OREN, the Oak Ridge Regional Science Education Center was equipped with modern Sun Sparc-10 Unix-based computer workstations and phone lines from ORNL for hands-on science experiments and full Internet access. At the Science Education Center, students can use modern telecomputing for science data collection and observation.

Through the OREN program, DOE and ORNL have helped to train more than 1,000 teachers in computer technology. The program has also provided free, advanced computer training for more than 300 teachers and students at the Saturday Academy for Computing and Mathematics (SACAM), in which ORNL volunteers teach students to use computing and mathematical tools to solve problems, such as deciphering DNA and the human genome. Analyses of the sequence of the human genome could be the foundation for curing genetically linked diseases.

In addition to OREN, the AiS program has connected 15 high schools, or more than 3,000 enrolled students, to supercomputing programs. This year, DOE and ORNL are trying to expand the program into junior high schools.

On a national level, more than half of the AiS students mastered computational skills, according to the Center of Children and Technology. This suggests that the AiS approach to learning is effectively overcoming sex- and race-based performance gaps in math and science. Female participation increased approximately 7 percent and minority participation increased approximately 12 percent during the 1994 fiscal year.

In 1993-1994, Tennessee had the narrowest gap between male and female AiS users, according to the Center. Tennessee's AiS program had a ratio of 58 percent male students to 42 percent female students.

ORNL, one of DOE's multiprogram national research and development facilities, is managed by Lockheed Martin Energy Systems, which also manages the Oak Ridge K-25 Site and the Oak Ridge Y-12 Plant.